Friday, September 27, 2013

Growing The Right Way For Me

I love the conical shape this dwarf firebush is taking on.  Hamelia patens 'Compacta' is an African variety of our Florida native Firebush species.

Dwarf Firebush with rain lilies underneath
I didn't prune or nip the new growth to make the firebush grow this way, it's just doing it's own thing.

Did I say dwarf?  It's already 5 feet tall.  Remember in Nature, size is relative.

North Carolina Woods, Florida Style

Have to be honest here. Despite loving the 365-days a year gardening and the sunny winters, I'm not a tropical girl at heart.  I love my native North Carolina and Scotland roots. And hiking through the woods and mountains, whether it's North Carolina, Scotland, or Florida, is my ultimate pleasure.  There's something about foggy mornings, refreshing rain, and the fragrance of forest decay that re-energizes me.

Hiking along Rufus Morgan Trailhead, Franklin, NC.
So, in my backyard I have a pseudo-forest growing. I have substituted subtropical ornamental plants, shrubs, and trees, that give the ambiance of walking a Smokies’ mountaintop.  The landscape grows without me (because I don’t have time) and when I get a chance to walk outside, I love seeing the surprise of flowers and greenery especially after a few days of rain or even during a misty sprinkling. 

I almost missed my surprise this week though.  Blooming through the thickness of Florida native pipestem, Agarista populifolia, loropetalum, and candelabra flowers of Whitefeldia elongata,  the mountain sprite flowers of toad lilies, Tricyrtis ‘Dark Beauty’ have been blooming for awhile and I didn’t notice them for the thickness of the shrubs.
White Candles, Whitefeldia elongata, Toad lilies, Tricyrtis,and Pipestem, Agarista populifolia
Love them! Just made my day.  Toad lilies will grow in Zones 5 – 9.  They will do well in shade, rich, moist soils, and don’t mind being ignored. They aren't inexpensive but they do multiply easily.

You can get the White Candles at your local nurseries and my favorite catalog and North Carolina nursery, Plant Delights in Raleigh, has a wonderful selection of tricyrtis for your backyard. They even have them on sale right now.  You'll love these forest beauties.  Delight in your candles and tiptoe through the toad lilies with me.  

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Guest Post - Steve Asbell: Why I Planted An Apartment Garden

Kitchen ideas, bathroom ideas, and more ∨

Hire residential landscape architects to help with all aspects of landscape design, from selecting or designing outside patio furniture, to siting a detached garage or pergola.
Find wall shelves, a customizable closet organizer and stylish furniture for home to whip your closet into shape.

Monday, September 23, 2013

What's Blooming In Your Backyard?

Love this time of year in the garden. Flowers still blooming with summer's last heat while you can almost feel autumn approaching.

At my neighbors, blue vines are uplifting color with the polite 'Heavenly Blue' morning glory vine and the impressive Sky vine.

'Heavenly Blue' Morning Glory, Ipomoea violata

Blooms open every morning in the full sun and last several days.

Flowers open up deep blue, then deepen until purple in the afternoon.
Sky vine, 'Thunbergia laurelfolia'

Sky vines bloom in sun or partial shade.
While morning glories are subdued by the winter cold, Sky vines can get out of control so be careful where you plant them or keep them under a watchful eye. I have seen them cover a house roof in very little time.  Glad it's at the neighbor's house so I can enjoy their beautiful blue flowers.

I have periwinkles, roses, dancing ladies are just popping up, and this striking Ixora  'Maui' which loves the sun and shade under our oak tree.

 Ixoras love acidic soils, full sun to partial shade, and really do thrive on neglect. No pest problems to speak of, so easy maintenance.  Ixoras can grow to ten feet tall but doesn't need to be pruned often.  Ixoras provides the perfect tropical look to your backyard.  Ask your local garden nursery for this beautiful flowering shrub.

If you love the  jewel tones of fuschia purple, add the Florida native, Beautyberry to your yard. Callicarpa americana, is an ornamental shrub that reaches six to ten feet naturally, has small white flowers and delivers on excitement with the edible purple berries in the fall. Low maintenance, loves sun or shade.

Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana
Burpee has the heirloom 'Heavenly Blue' morning glory seeds, Top Tropical nursery has the Sky vine, and check out the Florida Association of Native Nurseries,  or on Twitter: @FANN, for nurseries that sell beautyberries.

Teresa Watkins is a garden expert, landscape designer, and the host of her own gardening radio show, In Your Backyard, heard every week at 1pm EST on Tuesdays at  

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Landscape Show: New Ideas and New Plants

One of my favorite events of the year is the Florida Nursery, Growers, and Landscape Association's (FNGLA) The Landscape Show, held in Orlando every Setember.  The convention of nursery growers, garden experts, and landscape product vendors showcases the best of the country's newest and interesting ornamental plants and trees, elegant hardscape and accoutrements, innovative gardening tools, and horticultural experts for commercial and residential landscapes.

At the entrance, FNGLA organizers always have a lovely topiary scene greeting the guests.  This year, there were Busch Gardens toy soldiers, UF/IFAS chickens, and Sea World penguins.

Jaw-dropping mature trees, exciting foliage and colorful annual and perennial plants were on display and for sale to wholesalers.

Wholesale and retail nursery, Knox Farms award-winning display.
Multiple head Phoenix sylvestris
Award-winning booth of Oleo europeana
Award-winning Gumbo limbo, also known as Copperwood, Bursera simaruba
I always enjoy the classic water features and various pottery material to offer clients in future landscape designs.


Lots of great ideas and new resources. FNGLA's The Landscape Show has been a successful, mind-expanding exercise for my creativity and happily increased the desires of my plant addiction.

Click here to see all of my FNGLA's The Landscape Shows photographs.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Need Clean Water? Use Herbs

Freshly harvested cilantro
Plants having multiple uses is nothing new to science, turning corn into ethanol, the perennial foxglove into digitalis for heart conditions, and indoor plants cleaning the air of toxic gases, are a few examples.  Now college students at Ivy Tech Community College, in Lafayette, Indiana, along with students from Universidad Politecnia de Francisco J. Madero in Hidalgo, Mexico have been studying one of my favorite herbs - cilantro - as a water filter for contaminated water.

Using a process called bioabsorption, the two colleges successfully collaborated on a research team to confirm using cilantro to capture heavy metals will remove lead and nickel from polluted water.  Douglas Schauer, lead team member, says that the "ground-up cilantro can be inserted into a tube into which water is passed through. The cilantro allows the water to trickle out but absorbs metals, leaving cleaner drinking water. Dried cilantro can also be placed into tea bags that are placed in a pitcher of water for a few minutes to suck out the heavy metals."

Other possible bioabsorbant herbs include dandelions and parsley.

Read the entire article.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Clear Air? Use Indoor Plants

Celebrating National Indoor Plant Week September 15-21 is easy when you appreciate everything that plants contribute to our health.

Using plants indoors provides a number of benefits from reducing carbon dioxide from the air, reducing noise, and creating oxygen. 

NASA released a final report in 1989 on plants that could help diffuse "sick building syndrome. Reading the study was fascinating to see how the amazing results of Gerbera daisies and Pot Mums as well as Dracenas and Sanseverias.  

Read  1837156-NASA-Indoor-Plants.pdf 
Indoor Plants That Clean The Air

1.     Arrowhead Vine, Syngonium podophyllum

2.     Bamboo Palm, Chamaedorea seifritzii

3.     Bananas, dwarf, Musa oriana

4.     Chinese Evergreen, Aglaonema modestrum

5.     Dracaena ‘Janet Craig’,  Dracaena deremensis ‘Janet Craig’

6.     Dracaena, Dracaena marginata

7.     Dumb Cane, Dieffenbachia species

8.     English Ivy, Hedera helix

9.     Golden Pothos, Pothos aureus

10.  Norfolk Island Pine, Araucaria heterophylla

Friday, September 13, 2013

I enjoyed a beautiful day of pontoon boating on the St. Johns River today. We departed from Hontoon Landing on the Blue Heron River Tours

Enjoy this wonderful jigsaw puzzle of my photograph.

St Johns River Hontoon Island FL Jigsaw Puzzle Gallery -

Want to see the rest of our boat trip and the amazing Florida flora and fauna? Check out my photographs.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Establish Green Foundations
19th c. home of George W. Cable, The Amateur Garden
During the late 19th century, suburban builders planted landscape plants around homes to highlight the grandeur of the property.  Frederick Law Olmstead, founder of American landscapes, advised to ‘take care of the corners, and the centers will take care of themselves.’ Installing opulent shrubs and trees around foundations not only accented homes but created the framework to showcase the architecture of a new century.
Side view of George W. Cable's home in 1914
 After World War II, houses became less expensive and landscape packages adjusted to budgets of veteran first-time home buyers.  The next generation — baby-boomers— jumped into the middle class. The housing boom continued with smaller yards, less money for landscape budgets becoming the norm.  Today with savvy builders and 21st century science of water and energy conservation leads the way in offering ‘green’ landscapes with their showcase homes.  But for others, the Victorian trend of installing foundation plants continues with the 20th century artificial reality of zero-lot lines and instant landscapes.  You can easily tell the age of an instant landscaped community by the large trees, scantily grassed front yards from the lack of sunlight, and overgrown shrubs blocking the view of the doors and windows. Its five to ten years old.
Example of instant landscaping after one year.
Instant landscapes have a formula:  Pack as many colorful plants around the house as possible to give that WOW factor so you can sell the house quickly.  The buyers move in, loving the landscape, not realizing the costs and work ahead with high maintenance of pruning, pest control, and replacing stressed plants within a few years. 

The first six months is the honeymoon, landscapes look good.  But Olmstead’s advice that the centers will take care of themselves is a lie. Over the next two – three years though, the established landscapes mature and grow into their full size, requiring continual pruning to get to the door, or see out windows, or keep the trees from hitting the roof.  Mold and mildew become issues with the moisture of irrigation hitting the home and lack of air circulation from the shrubs. With bi-weekly or monthly pruning necessary to prevent shrubs and trees from taking over the home, the shrubs succumb to die-back or ‘bare-bottom syndrome’[1], leaving the shrub looking forlorn and sickly.

Bare-bottom syndrome with die-back issues. 
How do you prevent instant landscapes?
  • Use landscape plantings that allow for mature growth.  Take the full width of a plant and divide it by half.  If a tree grows 30 feet wide, plant it at least 20 feet away from house or overhead wires.  Hedge shrubs that will reach 6 feet wide within two years, plant three feet apart.
  • Do not cram perennials and ornamental shrubs together for the instant look.   Instead, plant more perennials and ornamentals appropriately, and then use seasonal annuals, containers, and hanging baskets to provide more color. 
  • Pruning foundation plants should not be necessary.  We shouldn’t put plants in to cut them unless it’s a formal landscape, a standard specimen, or a formal topiary.  If a window ledge is three feet up from the ground, then use a shrub that will only grow to three feet or grow very slowly, so that pruning is an annual landscape chore.
  • Install foundation plants at least two feet away from the foundation or outside of the roof line.  This will allow the foundation plants to receive rainfall, and therefore cut supplemental irrigation, but also keep the soil at the foundation dry.  Keeping the rootball moisture away around the home will also maintain the integrity of termiticide barrier, reducing susceptibility to termites. 
  • Shrubs should have three to four inches of mulch on top of the root ball, leaving the trunk flare visible but only use one to two inches of mulch around the foundation of the home. This will allow the moisture to dry around the house, again providing more termite protection.

How do you know how big a shrub or tree will get? A great landscape database to help determine appropriate size of shrubs and trees is the St Johns WaterManagement District’s Waterwise Landscapes website.   

Correct landscape installation 2008
Same landscape 3 years later.
Green builders want to provide better landscapes that will look great upon installation, are fabulous a year later, and within five years, look natural as if it had always been there.  Green landscapes mean lower upfront landscape budget costs for the builder, getting more bang for your buck while selling the benefits of less maintenance, lower water bills, for the home buyer, resulting in a quicker home sale!  

[1] My label for shrubs that have no foliage at their base due to being pruned incorrectly. 
Teresa Watkins, horticulturist, landscape designer, and environmental consultant is a Florida Water Star certifier, and a member of the USGBC-LEED Technical Advisory Group. Watkins is also host of the award-winning gardening radio show “In Your Backyard” heard on every Tuesday at 1:00pm. You can contact or send questions to Teresa at